Polish authorities are preparing for an unsettling time up to the Aug. 31 anniversary of Solidarity's strike settlement. And Lech Walesa, just like three years ago, is still at the eye of the storm.
To the Polish government, of course, he is just another shipyard employee, the chairman of a former, legally now nonexistent labor union that has been supplanted by unions more amenable to government control.
Even the Roman Catholic Church appears to favor a lower profile for Mr. Walesa to promote harmony with the Polish government and to encourage it to rule with a lighter hand.
But signs of trouble showed up Aug. 14, when more than 1,000 demonstrators tried to march to Gdansk's Lenin shipyard from the adjacent St. Brigid's church, but were quickly dispersed by the police. The evening before, Walesa was given a warm greeting by the congregation at a special commemorative mass at the shipworkers' parish. Those events marked the start of two weeks that are likely to be filled with tension before the anniversary of the strike settlement between the government and shipyard workers in 1980.
It is admittedly hard to find Polish workers who still entertain any lingering hope of a Solidarity comeback. But there is no doubt that most of the labor force remains at heart - and often in spoken word - intensely loyal to Walesa, who more than anyone else brought into existence their first trade union outside of government control.
Thus it was from the Gdansk shipyard this weekend that a clandestine union committee issued a call to workers all over Poland to mount a ''go-slow'' action before Aug. 31 if the authorities decline to open some kind of talks with Walesa and his associates (called ''trusted representatives'' by the statement). The government has said repeatedly that no such meeting will take place.
The proposal for an industrial slowdown is the first suggestion of some conditional quasi-formal action to mark the anniversary. It demands the fulfillment of the August 1980 agreement whose promised reforms have already been severely cut back by martial law and the ''preventive'' safeguards accompanying its formal lifting last month.
Despite the government's refusal to meet with Walesa, he clearly remains more representative of workers' feeling than anyone else. Moreover, the government has been largely unsuccessful in its efforts to promote credibility for its new unions. Thus, pressure remains on Polish authorities to talk with Walesa, trying to reach some compromise.
Not all outside observers go along with the official and also nonofficial, widely held view that the union leader - like Solidarity itself as an organization - is also a ''has been'' with no future.
Throughout 1981, his political weight was usually on the side of moderation, particularly at some highly tense moments. On his release after 11 months of internment, he had misgivings about union militants, whose increasingly dominant stand finally brought the military crackdown.
Walesa himself was not wholly negative in his first reaction to the ''self-managing'' trade unions - ''independent of state administration'' - outlined in the October 1982 law. His initial view seemed to be that, with essential adjustments, something meaningful might still be made of them.
The authorities, however, gave him no encouragement.
The odds would seem to be against them doing so this time. But, however uneventfully it passes from the government's point of view, the anniversary may nontheless be a reminder that Walesa is still not quite the ''nonperson'' official opinion would like him to be and that talking with him might still have a useful purpose - for Poland.